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The Unseen Calaguas And The Value Of Itinerary-Free Traveling

There’s value in planning well for your next vacation. If you’re going to make the most of a trip to a far-flung place, best if you have your itinerary laid out flat for you. Where you’ll be, where you’ll end up. You need to know these things, otherwise you’re in for a bad time—or are you? What if I told you there’s value beyond fixed plans? That there’s fun to be had outside of the itinerary?

Let me tell you about my trip to Calaguas.


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The trip itself was off to a terrible start as far as ready-made plans are concerned. We’d made an itinerary for the trip, but courtesy of latecomers and a last-minute cancellation, we found ourselves a good two hours behind schedule, on the wrong bus, and convinced that we were bound for a cursed holiday fit for a straight-to-DVD comedy. Sure enough, we got to Calaguas a whole four hours behind schedule, our itinerary sufficiently stamped into the sand. After what ended up being over half a day on the road, however, we weren’t going to let that ruin our trip.


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The first step to stepping off script while on vacation, we learned, is to ask around. When you’re off someplace new, chances are you’re a good stretch away from being considered an expert. Luckily for us, we had an expert on hand. “Kuya,” we asked the ferryman who’d brought us over from Bicol—now a friend of ours, since we’d chatted away with him in an effort to kill time on the voyage—“Ano ang pinakamagandang gawin dito sa Calaguas?” We saw his face light up, and he gave a knowing nod. He, Calaguas expert that he was, knew something we didn’t.


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Step two is to keep an open mind. Knowing as he did and unaware as we were, we had no idea where he was planning on taking us. We were wary at first, but having made friends with the guy, we felt that we could trust him enough not to lead us to danger. While sharing jokes and swapping stories with our boatman, he brought us over to a hidden little cove tucked away in some quiet corner of Calaguas. There wasn’t a single person about—just us and a long, winding stretch of sand that stuck just barely out of the sea. This little cove wasn’t listed on any itinerary. It didn’t earn a feature in any blog post. It was a find, hidden away from the eyes of the public, open to us because we ditched our plan, made a friend and bothered to ask.


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The third step, of course, is to know the limits of your holiday. As good a time as we were having towards our last day on the island, we noticed we’d run out of time and money. We’d already pushed back our departure home by an entire day, and staying any longer wasn’t going to be good for our return journey. We cut our trip at about three in the afternoon and started heading back. There wasn’t a single person among us who felt as if we’d been short-changed, like we hadn’t made the most of our trip. It felt like we’d maximized our stay, and I’m willing to bet it had to do with us not having to fret over a schedule.


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Of course, skipping out on the itineraries is different to not doing any research whatsoever. If you’re going to visit a place, get your basics down pat. Where is it, how do you get there, what language do the locals speak, the dos and don’ts of the local culture. You don’t have to have your entire trip plotted out on the map, but at the very least, have a map with you, for practicality’s sake. If you want to have a good time beyond what’s stated in the guidebooks—to end up somewhere special and hidden, to be free and to relax and to make things up as you go along on your vacation—then put down the spreadsheets, be open to experiences and save that vacation plan for your next trip. You don’t need an itinerary to have a good time.


Photographs by Alo Lantin